Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nicrophorus americanus

I pinched myself a lot today.  As a lover of beetles, this was a fabulous day for me.  We took part in reintroducing the American Burying Beetle on the Wayne National Forest.  This is an endangered species; the last of its kind to be seen here in Ohio was about an hour away, near Old Man's Cave, in 1974.  This was one of a succession of attempts to repopulate the area with this carrion beetle.  So, this is what we did!  After caravanning north of us about a half an  hour, we donned hard hats (a National Forest regulation, apparently, though luckily for about half of us, they were running short today.) and headed into the woods about three quarters of a mile.
Here we are, all in all probably 40 volunteers, Fish & Wildlife folks, a couple people from The Wilds, park rangers, and a few partners from the St Louis zoo (where I believe the beetles were raised), as well as 5 or 6 families from our homeschool coop (one of the dads is an employee of the WNF).  
Here is the project leader, a funny guy named Bob, who was wearing a shirt that says "Entomology: Larvae or Leave It", explaining the method of releasing the beetles, as well as telling us a bit about what these beetles do.  They are carrion beetles, meaning they eat dead animals, so to make this reintroduction successful, we had to use a dead animal to coax them into staying around. 
In this project, we used dead quail, which were a part of a different study looking at the foods quail eat (?!), and whom had died a "natural death" and been frozen for this purpose.  Here are the buckets of quail.
After marking off one of the areas we were going to work on (reintroducing somewhere around 240 pairs of beetles), we laid out flower pots to mark where the holes were to go.
Then we dug little bowls out of the earth, which was harder than we thought it would be; the earth was quite full of clay and very dense.  Apparently this was the site of a reintroduction (40% successful) from last summer, and someone found a quail skull while digging!  The hole was to be about 5 inches deep, and wide enough to sit the flower pot inside nicely.
After filling each hole with a quail (which the kids gladly volunteered for. I'll spare you the photos, you'll see enough dead bird in the following photos), the boxes of beetles were brought out.  Each pairing of boxes contains one female and one male beetle, with miscellaneous grubs as snack.
And here is the glorious Nicrophorus americanus!  They were quite beautiful, and very strong, hard to hold, and apparently, though I thankfully didn't get to see it, fantastic and strong fliers, able to fly 1.5 miles in a night.
We took our pairs and found a hole and opening one box at a time, placed the beetle under the quail, waiting to see if it was going to stay put (quail is apparently the creme de la creme of the carrion world), and gently tucked some dirt and leaves in around it.  Repeat with the second beetle.  Most of the beetles took to their holes quite readily, with only a few escape artists causing trouble.  Then the flower pot was placed over the hole, not to prevent escapes, but to hold up the screening we'd hauled into the woods to mark the area and prevent the site from getting tramples.  Here is our 9-yr-old friend Josie introducing the first of  the pair into the hole.
And holding the second of the pair before placing him/her into the hole alongside the first.
The hope is that the pair will take to each other, in which case the female will lay her eggs in a tunnel next to the hole, and they will together feed the larvae as it grows.  It is unusual for the mating pair to care for the young as a team - yay for the progressive habits of the burying beetle!! From start to finish - egg to mature adult - takes about 60 days.


Merry said...

Not being much of a fan of beetles, I do see how beautiful this particular species is! But all I can think of is poor Ani - isn't she the one who HATES nature?!!! She sure got a heavy dose of it this time!

slim pickins said...

tell me about it... mama, i'm tired, you know what? i wish i was at HOME, not here in the middle of this forest! i am hungry (as she's eating a sandwich - and i'll tell you i'm the only mom who brought food - i'm TRYING to watch out for the comfort of this kid!), i'm thirsty (ditto), i just do not have the energy to make it in my legs (so much drama).

i gave her a piece of gum, and guess what? she made it.